Wildlife Spotting on the Mekong River
The Mekong river town of Kratie’s claim to fame is that it is one of the prime locations for spotting the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat. Most visitors come to Kratie with this in mind, or simply use it as a convenient, and much needed, respite on the way to Laos after six to eight hours bumping along the ramshackle roads of Cambodia’s Northern provinces. Whatever the motive, it is certainly worth spending a morning cruising the Mekong in Kratie and trying to spot these peaceful creatures as they go along their journey.
Kratie on the Mekong River
Kratie itself was a bit of a surprise; the town was not geared up for tourists at all. After the energy, noise, and pace of Phnom Penn that morning, it was a very strange feeling when the bus rolled to a stop in the late afternoon sun and there was not the instant clamour of indecipherable voices all vying for attention. The lack of attention was actually quite pleasant.
The other surprise was when it started raining less than thirty seconds after getting off the bus and there were not a single tuk tuk driver in sight offering any shelter. Not even one appeared. As it turns out, there are only three tuk tuks in Kratie, one of which was handily present the next day to go to the launch point for dolphin spotting.
Bright and early the next morning, our driver appeared, proudly relating the fact that he had only had his tuk tuk for two weeks. It felt a little bit like being a minor celebrity as the tuk tuk rattled through the tiny towns and local residents came out of their houses to cheer their, ‘local boy made good,’ on his way. Fifteen minutes out of town, the tuk tuk came to a stop at a makeshift hut perched on the riverbank, and our party motored off up river in search of Flipper.
Wildlife Spotting, The Environmentally Friendly Way
After about forty minutes, the boat cruised gently to a halt, turned the engine off, and came to rest. It was reassuring to see that, even in it’s rather under developed role as a tourist town, the World Wildlife Fund has issued strict guidelines in conjunction with local police that included restrictions on the proximity that the boats were allowed to get to the dolphins seasonal habitat.
There were also fixed entrance fees to regulate the fledgling industry and deter locals from all trying to get a piece of the action. The boat rocked gently in the early morning heat as the driver patiently tried to spot a break in the water for his party.
The Elusive Irrawaddy Dolphin
It wasn’t a long wait. The faint, gentle sound of something breaking the water about twenty meters in front of our boat disturbed the peaceful atmosphere, as a nose and puff of air broke the surface and disappeared from view, almost as quickly as it had appeared. No sooner had this first sighting returned beneath the water, a second nose appeared less than fifteen metres to our right. After about forty minutes of watching the water break and catching intermittent glimpses of noses and tails, the surface of the water eventually became smooth again, with only the occasional ripple still to be seen, and the number of boats began to increase. The driver started the engine and made its leisurely way back to the river bank and town, a rare treat to have been invited into the home of these sedate creatures for a short time and spend a peaceful morning on this gentle section of the mighty Mekong.